Friday Faces: The Veun Sai Chinese Village

We met this adorable little group of kids while exploring the Veun Sai Chinese village in the eastern countryside of Cambodia. This region of the country is significantly less popular with tourists, which is one of the reasons we decided to check it out. After a month bouncing from island to island in Thailand, we needed a serious break from the tourist trail. We ventured over to Banlung to experience some of the outdoor activities they had available. On our second day we rented a motorbike and cruised out to the Veun Sai Chinese village (Voen Sai). We took a short ferry (more like a raft) across the Tonle San River and found ourselves in a tiny rural village, where this area has a mix of Cambodia, Laos and Chinese inhabitants.

As we were riding our motorbike along the dusty dirt road through the village, we were greeted by children shouting “hello!” from their front yards. We didn’t see any other Westerners in that area, and certainly no hostels or hotels, suggesting that these kids rarely see foreigners. As we drove, more and more children ran out of their houses to wave and shout, making us feel like a parade coming through town. We stopped a couple times to have a chat with the kids, but as soon as we stopped, they ran nervously back to their parents. Their interaction with travelers was obviously limited to shouting “hello” at passersby. We don’t think many tourists have ever stopped before, and certainly not without a tour guide to translate. We finally found this group of kids pictured above, who were brave enough to hang out with us for a bit. Even though their English was limited to “hello” and our Cambodian doesn’t go past “how are you,” we had a fun time taking photos and laughing along with their shrieking giggles.

After we said goodbye, we drove off thinking about how different locals react to us in Cambodia than in Thailand. In our experience, the children in Thailand were so used to seeing tourists, they didn’t seem interested in us. Even though breaking free from the tourist trail can be challenging, it was more than worth it to venture off to the Cambodian countryside to see how locals live, completely untouched by tourism. We left the Veun Sai Chinese village feeling a newfound sense of adventure and appreciation for authentic travel.

Friday Faces: Cambodian Monk From Stung Treng

After a long delay we’re happy to bring back the popular segment Friday Faces! A photo collection of the interesting and unique people we met throughout our travels. This week we bring you a super friendly Cambodian monk that we met in the province of Stung Treng.

At the end of a long day exploring the quiet, and often unvisited, city of Stung Treng I was slowly making my way back to the guesthouse for a rest. As I was nearing the last corner, and daydreaming of kicking off my shoes and letting the dogs out, I happened to walk past an old pagoda (similar to a Wat in Thailand and often used to educate/house monks). I floated past an open window and heard the familiar sounds of an English class going on from one of the old run down classrooms. Naturally I popped my head in to check it out (as any fellow English teacher would understand of course). Immediately I was met with friendly gestures and invitations to come and join in with the class. Not wanting to miss a unique experience like this I forgot my tired feet and happily accepted the invitation and made my way round to the front entrance and into the pagoda ground.

“He offered to take me inside one of the locked temples to view a sacred buddhist statue and take a picture as a souvenir”

Before I even made it to the classroom I was skillfully intercepted by a very enthusiastic and friendly monk. He spoke a little bit of broken English, but what he lacked in vocabulary he definitely made up in confidence. He quizzed me on all kinds of random topics, no doubt odd lessons he’d studied here and there. Conversations ranged from family and Australia, to Cambodian food and something about religion I didn’t quite understand.

Next he offered to take me inside one of the locked temples to view a sacred buddhist statue and take a picture as a souvenir. On the way to the temple he continued to practice every last word of English that he knew, rapidly spitting out sentences and then trailing off to other topics and completely new sentences. I tried my best to keep up with him, but it was to nice to hear him so eager to show off his skills when sometimes the Cambodian monks can be pretty reserved.

As we made our way up the temple stairs a crowd of other monks began to gather around and watch what was going on. They shyly waved back at my introductions, remaining friendly, but they kept their distance and strength in numbers. When we entered the temple I was awe stuck by the beauty and intricate details of the decorations, it really was magical. I got a couple of snaps, and then my Cambodian monk buddy was insistent on taking a picture of me in front of the statue. Unfortunately I only had my fixed 50mm lens on, and it was too close, but I let him have a crack…. didn’t quite work out.

After a couple of tries we swapped roles and my new mate was more than happy to pose for a couple of portrait shots out the front of the temple. I snapped away, showing him the pictures, while he continued to chat away about all kinds of things. Without wanting to run him through a photo shoot I took a few more and thanked him very much. Before this experience I was hesitant to approach monks, especially to ask for a photo, believing that it might be intrusive and rude. Now that I’ve had this positive interaction with such a friendly guy, I look forward to chatting with another Cambodian monk interested in practicing their english!

Have you ever had an experience with a Cambodian monk, or a monk from anywhere else in the world? What was it like? Hit us up on Facebook or Twitter, or drop us a comment below!

Friday Faces: Carlos of San Salvador

Meet Carlos! We came across this cheeky little niño while exploring the backstreets of San Salvador city center one sunny afternoon. After stopping by the market stalls to look for some bargains we came across Carlos’ parents stall. They were selling the standard El Salvadorian staples; beans, corn, tomatoes and onions and we needed to pick up something for dinner.

While making a few purchases we noticed Carlos slowly coming towards us with an all too familiar curiosity. While in Latin America we became pretty used to getting inquisitive looks when we were off the beaten track. With both of us being blonde, fair skinned and blue eyed it’s quite the difference when contrasted against most Latin Americans.

We stayed a little longer and chatted to his parents, hoping Carlos would gather the confidence to approach us and smile for a picture. Just when we were about to give up and head off he surprised us and came running right up to the stall. Once he got to us he looked up with his big brown eyes, said hola and then burst into a million different questions.

Como estan? Como se llaman? De donde son? Por qué tienen pelo rubio? 

How are you? What are your names? Where are you from? Why do you have blonde hair?

He was interested in knowing all about us, but you could tell he was still slightly hesitant to fully open up. He kept his distance behind a basket of toys and only occasionally flicked a smile at us from the corner of his mouth.

We hung around long enough to answer a few questions and get a couple of snaps before he politely said gracias and ran off as quickly as our interaction had begun. It may have only been a brief encounter, but it was long enough for us to appreciate the inquisitive nature of kids, and remember that there’s a little kid in all of us just waiting to explore the world and ask a million questions.

Friday Faces: The Tuba Player of Zunil, Guatemala

This weeks Friday Faces addition comes from a little town called Zunil, a short bus ride from Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala


We ventured into Zunil on a mission to see the famous San Simon (Saint of Gambling and Drinking), and also happened to bump into this rather impromptu street band parading down the street. We asked a few people why they were celebrating, but most of the answers were put pretty simply, porque no? (why not?).

That’s the thing we love about Latin American culture. Sometimes you don’t need any reason for an over the top celebration, except for the fact that it makes you happy. Mind you, with all the religious dates that load up the calendar it’s a surprise  they ever find time to organize any extra fiestas. Latin American’s love their religious celebrations. Packed with daytime fireworks, marching bands and lots of feasting.

We watched on from the distance as the large brass band paraded through the windy cobblestoned streets and into the main plaza. They stopped outside the church and paid their respects, before marching on again to another side of the town. As we departed the town back to Xela we could still near the music off in the distance.


Headed to Xela? Check out our Flat Broke in Xela guide for free and cheap things to do around the city.

Friday Faces: The Unknown Boys of Syria


This is a guest post by Sam of Indefinite Adventure


I travelled in Syria just before their civil war began in early 2011, and to this day it was one of my most rewarding and memorable travel experiences.

It was just outside the main souq (covered market) in Aleppo, which was the largest in the Middle East, that I ran across these three boys…or should I say that they ran across me. They dashed over to me, I guess spotting me easily as the only foreigner in the relatively empty square. They were three bundles of energy, full of excitement at finishing school before the weekend. When they saw that I had been taking photos of the nearby castle they insisted that I take their photo.

Despite it barely involving any words, it was one of the human interactions that stands out most vividly in my memory from my time in these boys’ beautiful country. I just hope they are alright.


Sam is a sometimes-EFL teacher, wannabe-minimalist, language geek who is trying to make it as a digital nomad with his partner, Zab. You can follow them on their blog Indefinite Adventure where they chronicle their journey, write about the places they visit, the food they eat (preferably vegetarian, organic and locally produced) and the people they meet. They are also on FacebookTwitter and Foursquare.

Friday Faces: Town Fiesta of Cholula, Mexico

This weeks Friday Faces goes back to an absolutely crazy weekend spent in the small town of Cholula, a couple of hours outside of Mexico City.

It all started when we went to visit Puebla for a few days and ended up in the neighboring town of Cholula to explore an ancient temple buried underneath a church. After spending a nervous half hour in narrow tunnels, facing my worst nightmare of getting trapped underground, we safely re-surfaced into the harsh Mexican sun and smack bang in the middle of a massive street party.

Celebrating some famous battle victory, from centuries ago, the whole town was out and about, dressed up, drinking in the street and firing extremely loud gunpowder rounds every few seconds. We sat and watched in awe as the streets came alive with music, dancing and 12 year old boys carrying guns. This snap comes from a passer by child, dressed in celebratory clothing and anxiously holding his fathers hand. He looked extremely involved in the infectious commotion, but flinched nervously at each sudden explosion of noise. We managed to get a hesitant wave and smile out of him, right before he disappeared into the haze of the fiesta.

After an hour of horse parades, pole twirling teens and marching men we positioned yourselves in the central plaza with a couple of beers and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon. The party continued on for many hours after that, and so did the beers. By the end of the night, with our ears ringing from gunshots, we called it a night and went home to eat tacos. Only in Mexico!

Friday Faces: Shopkeeper of San Salvador


Our aim for Friday Faces is to present not just a portrait, but the story behind the photo as well. But because of the nature of traveling, we don’t always get a full story or even a name. This portrait is one that Jules snapped while we went for a photo day in a market in El Salvador’s capital city. When we asked to take her photo, she became shy and quickly grabbed her niece to be in the photo with her. After we stopped and chatted with her for a moment though, she opened up and agreed to be shot alone. Her nervous smile faded and instead we captured a moment of seriousness. A straightforward photo of her day to day life as a proud shop owner.


Friday Faces: Angelina from Masaya, Nicaragua

Meet Angelina!

We met this young girl in Masaya, Nicaragua, after stopping for a quick look on route to Lago Apoyo. We’d heard of a funky little folk market that was worth checking out, so decided to spend the night having a look.  While the market turned out being a bit of a let down, our chance encounter with this little cutie made out stop worthwhile.

Being our usual budget selves we were scouring the small town of Masaya for some cheap eats when we stumbled across her grandparents restaurant. We were initially met with some curiosity, probably because we were the only Westerners in the shop, but with some smooth Spanish we were quickly ushered in like we were old school buddies.

On the menu today- try and guess. Rice and beans? You got it! Gallo Pinto, the Nicaraguan speciality. Throw in a fried egg, some plantain and a slice of salty white cheese and you’ve got yourself a pretty stock standard Nicaraguan breaky. But hey, for $1 a plate we couldn’t complain.

While we were eating breakfast the curiosity of young Angelina got the better of her. Slowly but surely she inched her way closer to our table until she was finally siting on a chair next to us.

She was carrying a box of coins, counting them aloud and making a funny game of it. Every time she got to the end of the coins she’d jump up, yell out the number and then burst into chuckles. Her laughter was infectious and before long we were counting and laughing along with her. We weren’t exactly sure what we were laughing about, but we were having fun all the same.

Her grandparents looked on with a smile, happy to see our empty plates and satisfied faces. After a few more games of coin counting we thanked everyone for a fun afternoon and headed off. Another brief travel encounter, but one that reminded us it’s okay to let go and let the little things in life send you into a laughing fit.

Friday Faces: Emilia from Xela, Guatemala


Jules and I entered the cemetery in Xela with hesitation. We were unsure whether we would be welcomed into such a personal environment as tourists. We walked around cautiously, keeping a respectful distance from the locals visiting the gravesites. As we watched families gather around colorful tombstones, we noticed a massive difference between the Guatemalan perception of death and our own Western views.

In Guatemala death is celebrated by bringing together the young and the old to share stories and remember deceased relatives. Families spend hours sitting at the graves, eating and chatting, while the children laugh and jump around on stranger’s tombstones playing games.

We were sitting nearby, watching a family at a grave, when a group of kids approached us. They enlisted us to pull down some fruits from the surrounding trees. When they realized we were too short for the job, they took matters into their own hands and climbed effortlessly up the branches. After descending, they presented us with fistfuls of bright red fruit.  They pulled us over to sit on nearby graves and giggled while we sampled the fruit. They stuffed handfuls of fruit into their mouths, juices running down theirs chins, and grinned at us with big red smiles.

The older ones of the group introduced themselves and explained their family tree, while the little ones crawled into our arms for hugs.  One of the older girls was more serious than the rest. At just 13, Emilia was in charge of caring for her baby sister, who was resting tight against her back wrapped up in a tradition Mayan fabric. She held back from playing with her brothers and sisters and instead kept a watchful eye on her younger siblings. When the parents called on the kids it was Emilia who decided to stay back to say goodbye and let us take her picture.

When she posed for the photo, she had a sense of self-confidence and pride that was very apparent. We may have only had time for a quick chat and snap, but it was enough to capture a very memorable moment.

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